Job's Friends

Have you ever heard the term, “Job’s comforters?” If you’ve ever experienced a tragedy, especially one with your health, you’ve likely gotten a dose of what Job’s friends dished out to him.

Job was a blameless and upright man (Job 1:1) who got caught between God and the devil. Satan thought he could get Job to turn on God, but God knew Job’s heart, as he knows all of our hearts. He trusted Job enough to allow Satan to do his worst.

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes. (Job 2:7, 8)

Now that you have a picture of just a portion of the tragedy that hit Job, let’s look at how Job’s friends responded.

In the beginning, Job’s friends did all the right things.

They made an appointment to come and mourn with him. When they got there, he was so ill that they didn’t even recognize him. They sat with him for seven days nights, and no one spoke a word to him because his grief was so great. I find this to be a tender moment. They were allowing him time to grieve and have the comfort of their presence. That’s being a good friend.

Then Job spoke. “I wish I’d never been born!”

Have you ever had a friend who told you she was going through a divorce, or his kid was doing drugs, or she was diagnosed with a chronic illness, or his doctor just told him he has cancer? What do you say to that? It feels like you should say something—but what?

Eliphaz was the first of Job’s friends to give his thoughts on the matter.

“Don’t take offense at this, but I just need to say something. Yes, you’ve done a lot of good things in your time, but it seems to me that you must have done something to deserve this. I was praying for you the other night, and the Holy Spirit told me (Job 4:12) that you aren’t trusting in God, but rather earthly things. Your sin caused this.”

Really???

This is an all too real a scenario, for people facing cancer.

That’s why I wrote Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.

In Facing Cancer as a Friend, I address what to say, what not to say, end more importantly, how to use your talents and gifts to bless the people in your life who have cancer.

Some things are more stigmatized than others.

When my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, we were quickly immersed in the cancer blame game. “Did he smoke?” Was the immediate response 90% of the time when we told people that he had lung cancer. I soon began to add the tagline, “and, he never smoked,” whenever I told someone about his cancer.

This bothered me, though. After all, are we saying that smokers deserve to have cancer?

The smoking stigma is reflected in research spending.

In a 2012 analysis by the National Lung Cancer Partnership, it was reported that each year, nearly 157,000 Americans die of lung cancer, and 39,970 from breast cancer. Yet, far fewer research dollars are spent per lung cancer death—$1,490 versus $21,641 for breast cancer. (A Sick Stigma by Charlotte Huff, Slate.com)

Job's Friends

Other Cancers

For other cancers, behaviors such as eating habits, alcohol, and stress are often called into question. While lifestyle is definitely a major contributor to all illnesses, including cancer, it isn’t appropriate to talk about these conjectures regarding a patient, unless you are the patient or their doctor. To do so, is either gossip or just plain tacky, depending on who you are speaking with.

The reality is, people are just trying to make sense of a senseless disease.

Job’s friends aren’t the only ones to engage in the, “how did this happen,” sleuthing. To this day, we can only guess at the cause of Dan’s lung cancer.  Radon is the top guess, just because it’s statistically most likely. But when and where did he get the radon? Who knows? One in three homes in Minnesota has an unsafe level of radon.

Dan has lived a “good, clean,” life. But, what if he hadn’t? Can you imagine all of the second-guessing that a cancer patient does at that point? We sometimes joke that he got cancer from the polluted air in Egypt. Really, it’s more of the same, “How could this happen?”

A skin cancer patient will look back on that sunburn from 2 years ago and curse the fact that he didn’t use sunscreen like his wife had nagged him to.

Someone with liver cancer will wonder if it was all of the partying she did back in her college days. Or, was it the acetaminophen she takes daily for chronic headaches?

We want to know why.

Cancer is such a complicated disease. Until it touches you, directly, you don’t have a lot of reason to gain an in-depth understanding of it. Social-media “science” only adds to the confusion. It’s horrible to think that bad things could happen to good people. It causes a sense of dread in all of us. After all, that would mean we aren’t immune. So, we try to conjure up a reasonable explanation for the cause of the illness or tragedy. Otherwise, how do I know it won’t happen to me?

Unfortunately, when we do this, we are acting more like Job’s friends than supportive friends.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSONThe Erickson Family

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Good Nutrition

Getting good nutrition can be difficult when you have cancer, both because of the disease and side effects of the treatment. There are some things you can do to overcome this obstacle to your healing.

Cancer can make good nutrition more difficult

Patients with head and neck cancer often have malnutrition before they start treatment. This is due to pain and trouble swallowing, swelling, and bleeding. Often a patient needs to consider a feeding tube as a temporary way of receiving the nutrients they need during their treatment.  Eating softer foods is important when you have cancer of the head and neck.

The pancreas makes an enzyme which helps break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. This enzyme aids digestion and helps to neutralize stomach acid as it enters the small intestine. If the pancreas isn’t working properly, there can be a shortage of these enzymes. This often means the body doesn’t get enough fat and fat-soluble vitamins from the food you digest. Proteins may not be completely digested, leading to the formation of toxins or allergies. Your pancreas also might not break down carbohydrates, leading to diarrhea and other problems with your digestive system as a result of a malfunctioning pancreas.

There are so many reasons why it can be difficult for patients with gastric cancers to get good nutrition. Patients may experience loss of appetite, both from treatment and cancer itself. The stomach may not empty properly. This can cause the patient to feel full longer.

 

Cancer treatment can make good nutrition difficult

Surgeries and radiation can make eating and digestion painful. Chemotherapy and radiation can cause severe nausea and vomiting. Mouth sores can also make eating a painful experience. Ask your doctor for advice on ways to ease discomfort and nausea.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy affects rapidly dividing cells like the cells that line your mouth, throat, stomach, and digestive tract. This can quickly affect your ability to get good nutrition by changing the way things taste and your appetite.

The time and duration of your chemotherapy can affect the severity of your appetite loss. Your appetite will most likely return to normal within 2-6 weeks of ending chemotherapy. Even if you don’t feel like eating, it’s important to try to get the good nutrition you need to fight infection and repair tissue damaged by cancer and its treatment. Getting good nutrition also helps fight fatigue and weakness

See a Nutritionist

Ask if your cancer center has a nutritionist on staff, or can refer you to a nutritionist who specialized in oncology nutrition. Oncology patients have special nutrition needs as well as oncology-related issues that can interfere with meeting those needs. They might be able to prescribe extra vitamins or supplements. There are also prescription medications that can help with appetite problems. If thing don’t improve and you begin to lose too much weight, your doctor can help you decide if temporary tube feeding or getting extra nutrients via IV is a good idea.

When Dan was first diagnosed, he saw a nutritionist who was able to give us some great advice about what he should be eating and how to make meeting his nutritional needs easier. She knew the issues that could crop up and make doing this harder. She gave us some easy recipes for shakes and smoothies that made getting the right kind of protein possible, even if Dan wasn’t up to eating solids.

Good Nutrition

Other Tips for getting Good Nutrition

Most cancer patients have higher energy and protein needs. Meal replacement beverages can help supplement those needs. Ensure with Revigor is one example of these. You can make some great tasting shakes at home in your blender and even add protein powder to give them an extra boost.

Along with smoothies, try making Popsicles from blended fruits. This can help increase your caloric and nutritional intake while soothing an inflamed mouth or throat.

Watch the spices! You may need to eliminate certain spices that bother your system. On the other hand, if irritation isn’t a problem, adding new and interesting flavors and spices to your food might be just the thing to entice your palate.

Chemotherapy often changes the taste of your foods. Sometimes the food you eat tastes metallic. Reduce this effect by eating with plasticware rather than metal utensils. Cooking in glass or enamelware can also help.

Choose foods that are high in calories and protein, as well. Stir some protein powder into your ice cream or pudding. Every little bit helps.

Eat what you can, when you can.

When Dan started having trouble with his appetite, we went to the store and walked down all of the aisles. When he saw something that looked appetizing we tossed it in the cart. He keeps his snacks nearby so when he’s ready to nibble, they are there. He ate frequent, smaller meals rather than 3 large meals every day.  He found it easier to eat more in the morning, so that became the main meal of his day rather than dinner when he found it hardest to eat.

If you find it hard to eat solids, don’t waste your fluids on non-caloric ones. You are doing the opposite of dieting. Instead, drink fruit juices, milk, and other beverages that have calories and nutrients. It may not be the optimal way to get calories and nutrients, but at this point, you just do the best you can.

If sitting down at the dinner table feels overwhelming, take your mind off of it and eat while watching your favorite show. People are often told that it’s not a good idea to eat in front of the TV because they will eat more than they realize, without meaning to. Again, you are doing the opposite of dieting. This is your chance to break all of the rules.

If you are finding that you never feel hungry, eat on a set schedule. Every couple of hours eat a small meal. It might just be a banana or a half a sandwich, or maybe a scoop of ice cream. These small meals will give you nutrition and maybe even some good nutrition to pull you through and fuel your body.

 

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-02-19 07:00:34.


Prostate Cancer

In honor of Men’s Health Week June 11-17, I am writing about Prostate Cancer. We hear a lot about women’s health issues. Unfortunately, the life expectancy gender gap has been growing. This is the number of years one gender is expected to live beyond the other.

  • In 1920, the life expectancy gender gap was only 1 year.
  • By 2014, men were dying almost 5 years sooner than women.

Why the Gap?

Men’s Health Library lists the following as some of the reasons for this gap in life expectancy:

  • Men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death and are the victims of over 92% of workplace deaths.
  • A higher percentage of men have no healthcare coverage.
  • Men make ½ as many physician visits for prevention.
  • Men are employed in the most dangerous occupations, such as mining, firefighting, construction, and fishing.
  • Society discourages healthy behaviors in men and boys.
  • Research on male-specific diseases is underfunded.
  • Men may have less healthy lifestyles including risk-taking at younger ages.

All these things add up to men dying at faster rates than women. Only men can bring about the changes needed to alter these numbers. Of course, the women in their lives can advocate for them. This includes encouraging them to see their doctor for annual exams and when symptoms arise that should be looked at.

Preventative care is a huge factor in women living longer than men.

Women are 100% more likely to visit the doctor for annual examinations and preventive services than men. (1)

Prostate Cancer Facts:

1 in 7 Men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

Risk Factors

Race

1 in 5 African-American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

African American men are also twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than other races are, however, if diagnosed at the same stage, the mortality rate is the same. Early detection is key!

Family History

Men with a family history of prostate cancer are 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Know your family history, especially if a blood relative has had prostate cancer

Men with the breast cancer gene, BRCA1, and BRCA2, have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

Diet and Exercise

Eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in fat and red meat to reduce your risk of prostate cancer.

As a preventive measure, and for your overall health, eat at least 2½ cups of a wide variety of vegetables and fruits each day.

Get physical activity daily.

Maintain a healthy weight.

According to the American Cancer Society, studies have suggested that diets high in certain vegetables, including tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower), soy, beans, and other legumes, or fish may be linked with a lower risk of prostate cancer, especially more advanced cancers.

Also, several studies have found a higher risk of prostate cancer in men whose diets are high in calcium. There may also be an increased risk from consuming dairy foods. This doesn’t mean that men who are being treated for prostate cancer should not take calcium supplements if their doctor recommends them.

Agent Orange

Vietnam vets are 2 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and it is also more aggressive.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, Health, United States 2015. Retrieved June 3, 2016, 2 Life Expectancy data are from CDC/NCHS, Health, United States, 2015

Prostate cancer is very treatable when caught early.

Symptoms can include:

  • Chronic pain in the hips, thighs, or lower back
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Blood in the urine/semen
  • Trouble getting an erection

Because these symptoms can be mistaken for non-cancerous conditions (and vise-verse) it’s important to see your healthcare provider for regular prostate cancer screenings. See http://www.prostatehealthguide.com/ for more information of prostate health.

When to Screen

The American Cancer Society recommends you talk to your doctor about screening at:

  • Age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years.
  • Age 45 for men at high risk of developing cancer of the prostate. This includes African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) diagnosed with cancer of the prostate at an early age (younger than age 65).
  • Age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age).

Treatments for prostate cancer have improved over the years, but nothing is more effective than prevention and early screening. Talk to your doctor today.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-06-11 07:00:28.


Oncology Care Teams

When someone is being treated for cancer, they will work with a team of medical professionals in the oncology department. This team approach ensures you get the best medical care possible. Who are some of the people on a care team?

Receptionist/Appointment Specialist

This will be the first person you talk to at the cancer center. They take your insurance information as well as your co-pay. When your appointment is done, they will make upcoming appointments that your doctor has ordered. These may include lab work, imaging, and future oncology appointments.

Lab Technician

The lab technician will take your blood, or urine and run any necessary tests on it.  If they are taking blood, they may access your port to do this. The results let your oncologist know a lot about your health. They can see whether you have signs of being immunocompromised. They can detect anemia and other issues such as low protein or magnesium levels. From this information, your doctor can make recommendations, including whether you will receive your treatment that day.

Care Coordinator/Patient Navigator

This may be a nurse, a social worker, or even a volunteer. He or she will be your “go-to” person. They will likely be one of the first people you will meet in the oncology department. Your care coordinator will learn as much as they can about you, your family, and your health. He/she will Find out what your needs are and then connect you to other people who can help with specific concerns. They may help you find financial resources, counseling and support services.

Our care coordinator’s name was Anne. She was so compassionate as she listened to our story. She even cried. Her kindness touched our hearts. We knew then, that to her, we were more than names on a chart. We were people with lives in the balance. When she learned that we had three young children at home, she told us about the Angel Foundation, a resource that helps families with a parent who has cancer.

Oncologist

Your oncologist is the person who pulls everything together. He or she had a goal of helping you live long and well. Communicating well with your oncology doctor. He or she will do their best to help you achieve your goals.

oncology care team

Palliative Care Specialist

This may be a doctor, a nurse, or a physician assistant. The palliative care specialist works with other members of your oncology care team to treat and symptoms of your cancer and the side effects of its treatment. They are especially skilled at pain control.

Oncology/Infusion Nurse

Asks intake questions about how you’ve been feeling since your last visit. It’s very important to tell him/her about any symptoms you’ve experienced, especially any changes. You will be asked to rate your pain on a scale from 1-10. Be honest about your pain so your care team can address it properly.

Tell the nurse about any changes in the medication you’ve been taking as well as any side effects you’ve experienced. Don’t forget about over the counter drugs. Something as simple as antacid can have interactions with your cancer medications. The medications you are taking also give your doctor clues as to your overall health. For example, if you are taking more pain medications than usual, it may indicate increased pain or the need to change to a more effective pain medication.

An infusion nurse will access your port, which is no easy feat, and they’ll administer chemotherapy. Nurses are trained to watch for side effects and other changes in a patient. I have great admiration for oncology nurses.

Physician Assistant

Physician Assistants do much of the same work that doctors do. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for people to think that a PA is an MD.  Often they will alternate appointments. This gives a patient another set of eyes to assess their health. It also allows the oncologist to see more patients without getting burned out. If you need an unexpected, last minute, appointment, it’s usually easier to get one with a physician assistant.

Every 3 months my husband gets a CT scan. A few days later, he sees his oncologist to talk about the scan results. The two monthly appointments in between scans, he sees a physician assistant. In his case, the PA is also a palliative care specialist. This is particularly helpful because he has a lot of pain.

Oncology Pharmacist

Oncology pharmacists are pharmacists who specialize in medications used to treat cancer. They understand how various drugs interact with one another as well as how to deal with the side effects of your cancer treatment. Oncology pharmacists regularly talk with patients about their treatment. They educate patients and caregivers about the cancer treatment and answer any questions they may have about their medications.

Chaplain

The chaplain in the cancer center does more than meets the eye. He or she is available to talk withOncology Care team patients and their family about spiritual matters. Having cancer makes faith a priority, even for people who haven’t given it much thought before. Chaplains who work in cancer centers are very good at supporting people when they are faced with life and death matters.

They not only serve the patients directly but also give counsel to the doctors and nurses who work in one of the most difficult medical fields. They are available to pray with patients and staff alike. Even though they will have a particular faith background, they are a valuable spiritual resource for patients and families from all faith traditions (or no faith tradition at all).

Oncology Social Worker

An oncology social worker is an expert in helping patients cope with life as a cancer patient. They can also help caregivers and the patient’s children. They can tell you about appropriate support groups as well as financial resources. If you have a non-medical question about living with cancer, an oncology social worker is a person you will want to talk to.

Psychiatrists in the Oncology Center

Living with cancer takes a tremendous toll on a patient, not only physically, but also emotionally and psychologically. Psychiatrists in the oncology center help patients with stress management, cognitive behavior therapy, pain management techniques, and counseling to maximize the quality of life for the patient and his or her loved ones.

Hematologist-Oncologist

This is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood diseases including leukemia, lymphoma, hemophilia, anemia, and sickle cell disease. Your oncologist may also refer you to a hematologist if the effects of your cancer treatment are adversely affecting your blood health.

Pathologist

You’ll probably never meet your pathologist, but they are an essential part of your oncology care team. Pathologists are doctors. They are the people who look at cells, tissue, and organs, that are biopsied to determine whether a patient has cancer. Pathologists make the final diagnosis of cancer. They also look for mutations that impact what type of treatment a patient is given.

Registered Dietitian

While a lot of people tell their family and friends how they should and shouldn’t eat, a registered dietitian makes nutritional recommendations to patients based on science and the patient’s individual needs.

One of the first appointments Dan had after being diagnosed with cancer was with the dietitian who worked with the oncology department. She dispelled the myths of cancer nutrition and told us the hard facts. (1) 20% of people who die of cancer actually die of malnutrition. (2) She told us that best predictor of survival was maintaining or gaining weight. “If you feel like eating a Cinnabon, eat a Cinnabon,” she said. This ran contrary to what we had heard from a lot of people. She explained nutrition from the perspective of oncology. She said that Dan needed to concentrate on two things. He needed to keep his calories up and eat twice as much protein. That advice has served him well.

Ways to Offer Help when a Friend has Cancer

Radiologist

Radiologists are doctors who specialize in reading z-rays, scan, and other imaging technology. They help in the diagnosis process. You will have regular imaging throughout your cancer treatment, as well as follow-up scans to make sure you are still cancer free. The radiologist will read all those scans. Even though the radiologist is an important part of your oncology team, you will likely never meet him or her.

There is one exception. Interventional radiologists perform non-surgical minimally-invasive image-guided procedures. When my husband had the Gamma Knife procedure done to remove a brain metastasis, there was a radiologist as part of the team and we met him.

Physical/Occupational Therapists

These amazing people help cancer patients live as normally as possible. They teach you how to regain strength, balance, and skills that cancer may have tried to steal. They help with everything from therapeutic exercise to using tools that make life easier.

Dermatologist

Chemotherapy and radiation often have adverse effects on a patient’s skin. EGFR targeted therapies cause rashes and skin eruptions. Dermatologists will assess and treat these side effects. They also make recommendations for skin care in survivorship. In a survey of cancer patients, 84% said they had never been referred to a dermatologist and over half would have felt better if they had been. (3)

Surgeon

Before modern medicine, surgery was the only cancer treatment that had a chance of success. Surgeons work with your oncologist in a variety of ways. They often take the tissue sample for biopsies. They help diagnose and stage cancer. Surgeons help treat cancer when surgery is an option.

These are just some of the people who are part of your oncology team. There are so many people who affect your experience as a cancer patient. Often these team members overlap in what they do. They work together to give you the best, most complete care possible.

I am grateful to the people who have been a part of Dan’s care team over the years. They are special people who have always made us feel like he is in good hands.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSONThe Erickson Family

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

  1. http://www.cancercenter.com/community/nutritional-support/tab/preventing-malnutrition/
  2. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/30812433/ns/health-cancer/t/push-fight-malnutrition-cancer-patients/
  3. http://www.mdmag.com/contributor/beth-mclellan-md-/2015/07/5-ways-oncologists-and-dermatologists-can-work-together-to-improve-cancer-care-

Neuropathy

Neuropathy is a set of symptoms affecting the nervous system. Peripheral neuropathy affects your nerves, or those on the periphery of your body: Skin, fingers, toes, etc. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy is when these symptoms are the result of chemotherapy.

Symptoms of Neuropathy

  • Numbness
  • Pain This may be constant, or it may come and go like a sharp, shooting/stabbing pain.
  • Tingling, pins, and needles or electric shock type pain.
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Burning sensation
  • Lack of dexterity, trouble buttoning shirt etc.
  • Problems with balance
  • Sensitivity to cold/heat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Blood Pressure changes
  • Decrease in reflexes

Symptoms tend to start farthest away from your head (toes and feet) and move closer to your head over time. They are usually bilateral, affecting both sides of the body at the same time.

If Neuropathy Comes Knocking

If you notice symptoms of neuropathy (or any change in your health and well-being) tell your oncologist immediately. They need to know as soon as possible how your body is reacting to the treatment you are on. Then, your doctor can make any necessary changes in your treatment plan and address your concerns when side effects are more easily managed.

Also, see a neurologist to rule out any underlying neurological problems that might be causing your symptoms. If you haven’t had a recent brain MRI, talk to your doctor about getting one.

Consult an orthopedist. They can check your musculoskeletal structure for problems that could be affecting your feet and legs.

Chemotherapy and Neuropathy

Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells. It can also affect nerves that connect the spinal cord to the patient’s muscles, skin and internal organs.

Whether a patient develops chemotherapy-induced neuropathy depends on many factors, including the type of chemotherapy used, and at what doses it’s given. And, of course, the individual patient’s health also plays a part.  It can begin at any time after treatment starts and often gets worse as treatment goes on.

Chemotherapy-induced neuropathy may go away after treatment is completed, or it may be a long-term or even permanent problem.

Preventing chemotherapy-induced neuropathy.

Before beginning any treatment plan, discuss the risks of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and the ways you can work with your medical team to prevent it.

Is the potential neuropathy from any given treatment usually temporary or is it often permanent?

Find out what side effects to should watch for.

Ask your doctor their preferred way of receiving messages is. Many doctors are moving to electronic charting. Some still prefer to get a phone call.

Your doctor might change the way he or she gives you your chemotherapy. He/she might:

  • Reduce the dose of the chemotherapy
  • Administer smaller doses more frequently
  • Deliver chemotherapy as a slow, non-stop infusion over a longer period of time

Medical Treatments for Chemotherapy-Induced Neuropathy

Oral medications:

  • Steroids (short term)
  • Low dose antidepressants
  • Prescription pain medication (opioids)

Medical Marijuana (in states where it is legal) (1)

Topical Creams:

  • Steroidal creams (short term)
  • Lidocaine, which is a numbing cream or ointment
  • Capsaicin, which is made from the capsaicin oils of hot peppers

Occupational Therapy

  • To help with fine motor coordination (Buttons and shoelaces etc.)
  • To decrease the risk of falls

Alternative/Complementary Therapies:

Relaxation Techniques:

  • Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Hypnosis
  • Biofeedback

Research has proven that these, and other relaxation techniques, can greatly reduce pain levels in patients. (2)

For more information, read this article from the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. (3)

 

acupuncture for neuropathyAcupuncture

Research has shown that Acupuncture improves nerve conduction in peripheral neuropathy. (5) Be sure to use a licensed acupuncture specialist. More and more chiropractors are learning acupuncture.

I have been receiving acupuncture at a pain clinic for the pain in my feet. I was skeptical of the practice until I experienced its benefits.

My doctor told me what led him to become licensed in acupuncture. His father in law is a veterinarian. One day he said, “Grant, I want to show you something.” He then proceeded to perform acupuncture on a dog who was suffering from arthritis in her hips. After the acupuncture session was over, the dog could walk with no problems. “There’s no placebo effect in animals,” he pointed out. Seeing was believing, and my doctor went back to school to learn an additional way of helping his patients.

Manual Lymph Drainage

Because manual lymph drainage is contraindicated in the presence of metastatic cancer, and its benefits have not been well established, I will not go into detail on this alternative treatment for neuropathy other than to say that the reason this is potentially harmful is because of the way the lymphatic system can be used to transport cancer cells around the body with metastasis. You certainly don’t want to help the process out. If you don’t have metastatic cancer and would like to investigate further, check with a reputable massage therapist.

ExercisePool therapy for neuropathy

Exercise to improve your circulation. Consider pool therapy or swimming if pain makes “regular” exercise or walking too painful. Check with your doctor to make sure that the pool is safe for you. Some people need to avoid the chlorinated water because of its effects on their skin. There is also an increased risk of infection. Your doctor will be able to help you weigh the benefits and risks.

Some Additional Suggestions

Avoid alcohol, since it can cause and/or make nerve damage worse.

If you have neuropathy in your fingers, be careful when handling sharp objects. Wear protective gloves while gardening or doing other chores which could damage your hands.

Likewise, if you have neuropathy in your feet, avoid walking barefoot or in open-toed shoes. If the neuropathy in your feet affects your balance, or you stumble on occasion because of it, use supportive aids(handrails, cane, walker). Have grab bars installed in your bathroom.

Avoid extreme temperatures. Check the temperature that your hot water heater is set on so that you don’t scald yourself accidentally.

Eat a high fiber diet if constipation is a problem. Not only can neuropathy affect your bowel habits, but so can the medications you take to manage pain.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

  1. The Neuropathy Journal, Treating Neuropathic Pain with Medical Marijuana. Morrow, David
  2. Western Journal of Medicine. 2001 Oct; 175(4): 269–272. Pub Med.gov
  3. The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. https://www.foundationforpn.org/living-well/integrative-therapies/mind-and-body/
  4. Acupuncture treatment improves nerve conduction in peripheral neuropathy. Eur J Neurol. 2007 Mar;14(3):276-81. Pub Med.gov

 

Originally posted 2018-02-12 07:00:39.


Helping Someone in Crisis

You likely know someone whose world has been turned upside down by a life-altering diagnosis such as cancer.  If you don’t, unfortunately, you will. You want to be able to help someone in crisis, but, how?. When my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, we experienced the good the bad and the ugly when it came to the way people gave us support. Some people with good intentions ultimately caused us a lot of pain. We also had friends and family that who did things that made an amazing difference.

How do you help someone in crisis?

Since you’re reading this, I am sure that you want to be a blessing to the people in your life who are going through the fire of cancer or some other life-altering diagnosis. You have unique strengths and gifts that can benefit them at the point of their greatest need. I want to help you know how to use these strengths and gifts to their maximum potential.

Helping someone in crisis doesn’t have to feel like a burden. In fact, it should bless you as much as your friend. Here are some ideas for making the experience of supporting a friend a good one for you, your friend, and their family.

Prepare Yourself, Emotionally

It can be difficult to see someone in crisis, especially when it’s someone you care about. Reacting in the moment can result in saying something unintentionally insensitive, Avoid this by processing your own feelings beforehand. It can be difficult to hear that a friend is facing cancer or some other crisis. Take time to acknowledge and cope with your own emotions about their diagnosis before you see him or her. This way, you can keep the focus on your friend.

This isn’t an excuse to avoid someone in crisis. All too often, people steer clear of friends who have a life-threatening illness like cancer or a life-changing crisis like divorce or financial ruin. It is so painful to go through a crisis and discover half of your friends have disappeared. Often people who avoid friends in crisis don’t even realize that’s what they are doing. They may think they are waiting for a better time to see their friend. Unfortunately, lots of people do this. The result for someone in crisis is a feeling of abandonment.

You might think your friend has a lot of people around to support him/her and that you would only be in the way. I’ve talked to many patients and caregivers who found that their circle of friends suddenly shrank with their diagnosis, often because people made this assumption. So, how do you prepare?

Learn about the diagnosis

Your friend may not want to talk about the details. It can be physically and emotionally tiring to repeat the same information to different people. If possible, ask the person’s spouse or a mutual friend may be able to give you the basics. This way you will have the correct information. If there’s information that is unknown or not shared, don’t push for more. You aren’t getting a medical degree, just a general idea of what your friend is dealing with.

Be prepared for changes in your friend’s appearance

Weight changes, hair loss, fatigue, symptoms such as a cough or shortness of breath are common side effects of cancer and many treatments. The opposite can also be true. Newer treatments have fewer appearance altering side effects. But, this doesn’t diminish the seriousness of what the patient is going through. Often, a person’s appearance doesn’t match up with what’s happening inside of their body and how they are feeling. So, instead of commenting on any physical changes, start your visit by saying “It’s good to see you.”

Follow the Golden Rule

It can really help when deciding how to treat a friend who has cancer, or the primary caregiver for a cancer patient. How would you want to be treated if you were in their shoes? Better yet, how does your friend want to be treated? Not everyone wants the same thing. Some people need time to process on their own. Others want to surrounded by supportive friends. How does your friend typically react to difficult trials? Do they withdraw? Do they want to talk? If you aren’t sure of what they want, just ask. Ask even if you think you know what they want. They might surprise you.

Facing Cancer
Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com.

Ideas for helping someone in crisis

These ideas will work for people affected by any life-altering diagnosis. These ideas came out of our family’s experience, and the experiences of others fighting similar battles. I share these ideas and more in my book. Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com. Although each person with cancer is different, we have heard a harmonizing chorus of feelings expressed by people with a life-altering diagnosis.

Check-in with a phone call

Before visiting, giving advice, and asking questions, ask if it is welcome. Make it clear that saying no is perfectly fine.

When possible, let your friend know when you will be calling. Write it on your calendar so you don’t forget. Also, let him/her know that it’s okay not to answer the phone.

Don’t be afraid to make plans for the future. This gives your friend something to look forward to. When making plans, be flexible in case something comes up or your friend needs to cancel or reschedule.

Be real

Don’t let your friend’s illness get in the way of your friendship. Continue to ask them about their interests, hobbies, life events and other topics not related to cancer. People going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about the disease. Be cheerful when you naturally would be, and humorous and fun when appropriate. A light conversation or funny story can make a friend’s day. This doesn’t mean ignoring the elephant in the room. Allow for sadness. Don’t ignore uncomfortable topics or feelings. Your friend may need to talk to someone he/she trusts.

Offer specific help

Often, when talking to someone in crisis, you ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” 9 times out of 10 they will say no. This is because they’re so overwhelmed that they have no idea what they need. It’s better to instead anticipate his/her needs and offering to help with specific tasks, such as taking care of children, pets, or preparing a meal. If your friend declines an offer of help, don’t take it personally. It can be hard for many people to learn to accept help. Let them know you’re “on call” for emergencies, and offer again in the future. Keep your promises. If you commit to helping, it’s important that you follow through. They are counting on you.

Read his or her blog, web page, or group emails

It is often difficult for someone in crisis to be so open about such personal information, especially in such a public forum such as the internet. Yet, this is how someone in crisis can share their experience with friends and family. By following their story, you are showing you care about your friend. Stay current with these updates to avoid blunders when you talk to them. Also, this means that your friend won’t have to repeat experiences or information multiple times. These updates can also be a great way to start a conversation.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-06-04 07:00:47.


palliative care specialist

Have you ever talked with a palliative care specialist? Do you know what they do, or how they could help you with your cancer treatment?

What a palliative care specialist does

“Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness-whatever the diagnosis.

“The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided together with curative treatment.”[1]

Some issues that a palliative care specialist can help resolve

  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of breath/cough
  • Neuropathy
  • Weight gain/loss
  • Stress/depression
  • Nausea
  • Memory problems
  • Fatigue

How do we reconcile different goals?

Sometimes at the outset of care, a patient might feel like their goals aren’t being addressed, or that their goals are at offs with those of their doctor.

Here’s an example of 2 different points of view:

  • A doctor sees lung cancer as the problem.
  • A patient sees shortness of breath and fatigue as the problem.

Doctors are focused on healing the sick. That’s their purpose, and they usually do an exceptional job of fulfilling it. Unfortunately, they may fall short when it comes to addressing pain and symptoms (person-centered care).

This is where palliative care shines.  You can still receive treatment for cancer, and as you do, a palliative care specialist can work with your doctor to reduce the impact that symptoms and side effects have on your day to day life.

The goal of palliative care

The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for the patient and their family. This happens using a team approach. Doctors, nurses, specialists, chaplains, caregivers, etc. all form a team which works together to help patients:

  • Cure, or halt disease
  • Maintain quality of life
  • Coordinate care
  • Make informed decisions

This can begin at any stage of the illness.

Palliative care can, and should, be provided at any stage of the lung cancer journey. Treating symptoms and side effects is as important as treating the cancer itself. By reporting them as soon as they occur, your doctor can address them early on. You are then more likely to continue to get the care you need throughout the course of your treatment and beyond. The aftermath of treatment must also be considered and treated. This contributes to your overall quality of life.

But, few people understand what a palliative care specialist does…

In a 2011 national survey, the Center to Advance Palliative Care, American Cancer Society, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network found that 70% of consumers weren’t at all knowledgeable about palliative care. Yet, once informed about palliative care and its benefits, 92% of consumers would consider palliative care for their families and believe that patients nationwide should have access to it.

…Including physicians.

Unfortunately, physicians tend to equate palliative care with hospice and only refer patients to this important service for end-of-life care.

American Society of Clinical Oncology believes cancer patients should have early access to palliative care. They even updated their guidelines in 2017, to reflect this:

“Patients with advanced cancer, whether inpatient or outpatient, should receive dedicated palliative care services, early in the disease course, concurrent with active treatment.”

Doctors should refer patients with advanced cancer to a palliative care specialist for the optimal treatment of issues that arise during the course of treatment. Palliative care relieves pain and symptoms, reduces hospitalizations, ER visits and unnecessary tests, and also increase the length of a patient’s survival. Oncology and palliative care specialists can (and should) collaborate at any stage of the disease to extend survival and contribute to a high quality of life.

Palliative care is not hospice.

Hospice patients are referred based on a prognosis of 6 months or less. Palliative care has nothing to do with your prognosis. It is need-based, based on need and suffering. Talk to your oncologist to increase coordination of care with a palliative care specialist.  If your oncologist is resistant to palliative care, talk to a palliative care specialist yourself. They can reach out to your oncologist to explain how palliative can increase the amount of time the patient can continue with treatment. This might just help y9our oncologist improve the level of care for other patients, as well!

Palliative care can be essential beyond treatment for lingering issues such as neuropathy and immunotherapy-related issues.

Another myth about palliative care

Palliative care is covered by insurance, and you can continue curative treatment while receiving these services. There are even home care specialists who deliver palliative care. They are also experts at monitoring and safely dispensing opioids. So if you are dealing with cancer-related pain which requires opioids, you can get more knowledgeable help. Give it a try and see what you think.

Palliative care specialists see the person beyond the patient, beyond the disease.

For more resources on palliative care, check out www.getpalliativecare.org.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSONThe Erickson Family

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

[1] Public Opinion Research on Palliative Care. Research Commissioned by the Center to Advance Palliative Care, 2011, pp. 1–15, Public Opinion Research on Palliative Care.


What if

Cancer can often feel like a roll of the dice. The unknown can be the hardest part of cancer and its treatment. This causes patients and their families to often ask, what if. One year into his treatment plan, Dan’s doctor declared that Dan was NED (having no evidence of disease). This is a term used to describe what people think of as a state of remission (in certain types of cancer). It is a wonderful feeling to be NED. Still, because Dan’s cancer was advanced and ultimately terminal, we had been told that it was only temporary and that at some point Dan’s cancer would rear its ugly head again.

What If

One thing that surprised me was how uneasy I felt, even during that time. His scans were now farther apart. Instead of being every 6 weeks, they were every 3 months. What if cancer began to progress just after a scan, and then grew, unchecked, for 3 months? What if? That question plagued me.

We were counting on God to give us the time we needed as a family, and we were counting on people to pray for us, so I also feared that because Dan was doing well, people would forget that we still needed prayer. And, at certain times, like when Dan was about to have a scan, or he just wasn’t feeling quite right, a what if would cross our minds.

  • What has happened since the last scan? What if the cancer has progressed?
  • Will we be able to stay the course, or will we suddenly have to learn about a new treatment? What if that treatment doesn’t work?
  • If there is a new treatment, what will the new side-effects be like? What if the treatment is really hard?
  • What if the treatment involves infusions? Are our schedule and routine going to go through another upheaval?
  • Will there be another option when this one runs out (Because it always stops working at some point)?

Kids worry, too

Our kids worried too. In the back of their minds was their own “what if” list. It was especially bad just before a scan.

While most young children, will be able to quickly move beyond the cancer once treatment is done and you’re feeling better, some children worry more than others and may need continued support.

Teens may avoid talking openly about their fears or concerns. It is often easier for teens to discuss their fears with someone outside the family. You can see if they would like you to coordinate a time for them to talk with an adult they trust or can feel at ease with.

Kids tend to see things just as they are. Once you complete your treatment, life goes back to normal and you begin to look like your “old self” again, they will probably think that the illness is over. You might want to tell your children that everything will be fine, but it’s best to let some time pass before you give them any assurances. Unfortunately, cancer can recur or metastasize (spread to another part of the body).

Dealing with the question What if

 

Dealing with feelings of uncertainty

You should be honest about your feelings of uncertainty—with yourself and with your kids. They may be experiencing some of the same thoughts that you are. Be honest about the fact that if the cancer returns, it will mean more treatment, of some sort.

During this time, you can—and should, be happy. When a treatment is ended, there is plenty to be happy about, and you can share those things together. Maybe you’re looking forward to not feeling nauseous anymore. If you lost your hair due to treatment, you can enjoy seeing it return (maybe even different from before). Enjoy the moment, even if you don’t know what to expect in the future.

Our Story

When you have a “treatable” cancer and you respond to the treatment there is every reason to hope. My husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV, metastatic, lung cancer. We were told that his cancer was terminal and that we were buying time. Even though it looked hopeless, medically, we had reason to hope. Our hope is in the Lord, Jesus Christ. He has been our strength throughout this journey. I am grateful for that hope. We have had over five amazing years of memories, to date, that we might have otherwise missed.

Dan’s most recent scan shows that his cancer is again progressing. That means starting a difficult course of treatment, again, and worries about whether or not it will work—and for how long. It’s during these times that I remind myself, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” Matthew 6:34 RSV (1)

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

  1.  from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Originally posted 2018-02-05 07:00:45.


Giving gifts to brighten a patient's day.

Confession: I’m a Terrible Gift Giver. I don’t know why. I just am. Each Christmas my sisters-in-law and I all exchange gifts. They are little gift bags of things that make life fun: notebooks, lotions, great pens, etc. I am always in awe of the ladies’ creativity and thoughtfulness.

In comparison, my ideas are unoriginal, and my gift bags aren’t nearly as cute. Still, they appreciate my effort. Gifts are another way to show someone you care about them.

Money

Money can be a sensitive subject, but it is an important part of life. Many times, we’ve had people bless us with cash, checks, and gift cards just when we needed it most.

Because of being self-employed Realtors, we don’t get sick pay. So, when Dan was diagnosed with cancer, one of the things that began to suffer was our finances. With all of Dan’s appointments, and him becoming sick from treatment, many potential clients were unsure of whether we’d be able to give them the attention they needed in their home buying/selling process. Often they were tempted to choose someone else to represent them and we were left with no income.

Even patients with jobs that offer sick pay, find that it runs out all too quickly.

The patient’s spouse needs to be there for the patient during treatment and recovery, and not only for support. When someone is facing an illness that can be terminal, it’s important for the family to have as much time together as possible.

This is especially a concern when there are children at home. Emotional struggles and fear can quickly creep in. Having both parents there to manage the children’s insecurities and the by-products of the situation make a big difference. You can learn more about parenting with cancer in my upcoming book, Facing Cancer as a Parent.

The Gift of Giving

Some people are more comfortable giving gifts, than “doing something.” That’s wonderful because gifts can make as much of a difference as anything. They can be a huge blessing and brighten someone’s day.

Gifts can be practical, fun, interesting, serious, or light, depending on what your friend needs the most.

When giving gifts, it’s helpful to keep in mind the interests and hobbies of your friend. They may appreciate something really silly or unusual, or something that is deeply meaningful.

If the patient is someone you don’t know as well, like a neighbor or work colleague, you may want to stick with something more traditional.

Gifts We’ve Received

We’ve received some gifts that have lightened our load during this journey. Gift cards to order pizza enabled us to make our daughter’s 11th birthday more special, even though we were financially strapped.

One day a dear couple stopped by with a pair of slippers, a robe, comfy pajama bottoms, and several meals. We were overwhelmed by their love for us.

Another couple came over during the holidays with a basket full of fruit, and a gift card for groceries which we used in order to have a wonderful Christmas meal with all of our kids.

We’ve been given timely financial gifts that have dramatically improved our lives.

I could go on, but instead, I’ll give you a list of some ideas you can use to bless the people in your life who are struggling.

Some Suggestions:

Facing Cancer has great ideas for a gift to give cancer patients.
Facing Cancer as a Friend is available on Amazon.com in Paperback and Kindle formats.

Digital Gifts:

  • CDs or gift cards for downloadable music or audiobooks
  • DVDs of movies, TV shows, or documentaries
  • A video message from family and friends
  • Pictures of friends and family
  • An e-reader and a gift card to add some books to it.

Traditional Comfort Gifts:

  • A good book, or a magazine or newspaper subscription.
  • Crossword or Sudoku puzzles
  • Note cards or a journal
  • Gift a soft, comfortable hat or scarf if your friend will lose his/her hair with treatment. This helps men and women feel more comfortable in appearance, and physically. You lose a lot of heat through your head in the winter if you don’t have hair. Bald heads burn easily in the summer sun without protection.
  • Gift a super comfy blanket, socks, or robe, for couch lounging or trips to chemo.
  • Slippers, pajamas or robe
  • Give a plant or send a flower delivery. However, make sure the person isn’t on neutropenic precautions first; fresh flowers can be an infection risk for cancer patients with weakened immune systems. Also, make sure they don’t have any sensitivities. Lilies, in particular, can have strong scents that bother some people.

Gift Cards:

  • Gift certificates for massage, spa services, restaurants or museum/art gallery passes can all help lift someone’s spirits and make life a little more “normal.”
  • Grocery stores gift cards can be extremly helpful.
  • Buy gas cards to help with the extra driving to appointments. I remember one week when we spent about 10 hours driving to and from appointments. Friends gave us gas cards which made a huge difference!

Splurge and Pamper:

  • Accessories (earrings, bracelets, scarves, ties, hats), makeup, or beauty items
  • Portable hobby supply kits (scrapbooking, drawing, and needlepoint) or puzzles can be relaxing gifts.

Paid Services:

  • Treat him or her to a spa or beauty treatment: manicure/pedicure, facial, makeup application, etc. It may be the first time they’ve felt pampered in a while.
  • Housecleaning- When someone has cancer, the entire household goes into “survival mode,” and cleaning often falls by the wayside. But that doesn’t mean that the newly accumulated dust and clutter go unnoticed.

Often, patients and caregivers are embarrassed at the condition their home is in because they lack the time and energy to clean. They scurry around trying to get things in order when they hear that someone is stopping by. This leaves them exhausted, later.

You could offer to help clean, (use your best judgment as to how this will be received). Often shame and embarrassment will keep people from accepting.

Paying for a visit from a cleaning service on chemo day would be a huge blessing. They will return home to a spiffed up house and have one less thing to worry about.

Note* Make sure that they are okay with this since some people are very private and will not be as appreciative of this.

  • Send a mobile masseuse for a gift massage. Use caution if the patient has metastatic cancer that has spread to their lymphatic system. The safest thing to do is to have them check with their doctor. This is also a great gift for stressed-out caregivers.

If you want to give “outside of the box”:

  • Check to see if your employer would allow you to donate money or vacation time to cover paid-time-off hours for the patient or caregiver you work with.
  • Look into donating air miles so that they can take a trip, or family from far away can visit.

A Bonus Idea for the Adventurous: A Chemo Day Bag!

Spending time in the “chemo chair” is no fun. The day often includes several different appointments and can become long and drawn out. One way to bless someone who’s receiving chemotherapy is to give them something to make the day easier and the time to go by faster.

Any bag will do. If you are going to go all out, a diaper bag has plenty of room, and all of the pockets are great for organizing the goodies you can fill it with. Don’t feel like you need to use all of these ideas. Even a small gift bag with one or two of the items will let the patient know you care and want to make their chemo day easier. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • You could include things like a travel mug with herbal tea or cocoa packets.
  • Lotion and Chapstick help with the drying effect of chemo.
  • Mints, lemon drops or “Preggo-pops” (ginger candy), all help with nausea associated with chemotherapy.
  • A favorite novel, puzzle book or devotional can help pass the hours in the chair. Add a journal and pen for the patient to record their thoughts at such an emotional time.
  • Hand sanitizer and baby wipes are wonderful for cleaning up after a snack (which you could also include).
  • If you really feel like going all out, you could add a quilt or a fleece blanket.
  • A heating pad is a great addition for extra comfort and warmth during those long chemo sessions.
  • Consider putting together a small bag for the caregiver. Often they sit in a folding chair during the hours the patient is receiving chemo.

Gift a Chemo Day Bag

Our Story

Dan developed “brain mets,” or metastasis to the brain, two years after Dan his initial diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer. He went to the University of Minnesota for a procedure called, “Gamma Knife.” It used concentrated rays of radiation to strategically eliminate the tumor in his brain while sparing the rest of the brain. It was going to be a long day, so my mother-in-law came along to keep me company. My brother-in-law gave us a ride so that we wouldn’t need to worry about driving and parking. My sister-in-law sent little gift bags with snacks and reading material for our wait. Each of these loved ones made a frightening day much easier.

Note: This post and its suggestions have been excerpted from the book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-05-28 07:00:08.


Firefighters with Cancer

It’s been 17 years since “9/11.” No doubt, you remember where you were on that day. Images of heroic first responders are etched in our memories forever. Exactly how has the health of survivors and first responders (including firefighters) at Ground Zero been impacted? Are there more firefighters with cancer than in the general population?

One recent study (1) estimates 2960 new cancer cases in the WTC-exposed cohort between January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2031. This means that in the future we can expect to see greater numbers of WTC-exposed rescue and recovery workers, including firefighters with cancer.

It’s still hard to find clear statistics. Collecting data takes decades, so we won’t know for many years, the full cost they paid that day. But, we do know that firefighters, police officers, EMT’s, construction workers and volunteers were exposed to over 80 health risks including lung diseases, mental illness such as PTSD and cancers like multiple myeloma (2). It’s also clear that there are increased numbers of firefighters with cancer in general, beyond the World Trade Center Responders.

Check out the video at the end of this article. Dallas Firefighters share their cancer experiences.

Imagine you’re a firefighter.

You put on your gear. Manufactured used special chemicals to make it flame retardant. You go into a burning home and get everyone to safety. The chemicals in the smoky air surrounding you stick to your gear. Fire after fire, they accumulate. After the fire, you toss the gear in the back of your truck.

You don’t wash it. For 2 reasons:

  1. Your dirty gear and helmet are a badge of honor within the firefighting culture. The soot and grime show that you’ve seen a lot of fire.
  2. Frequent washing causes rapid deterioration of your gear. That means replacing it more often, which means an increased budget.

Firefighters and Cancer

Problems

No Annual Physicals

Many fire departments don’t require annual physicals beyond the initial hiring physical. (3) These physicals are crucial for preventing the #1 cause of death in firefighter, heart attacks. But they’re also essential for firefighters with cancer to get early cancer detection.

The Gear, Itself.

The fabric in the gear, itself, is made with Terephthaloyl Chloride and p-Phenylenediamine. (4)  This has a toxic component called C8.

Why is it there?

  • To protect firefighters from the heat while fighting fires.

What’s the alternative?

  • In Europe, where it’s illegal to manufacture goods with known carcinogens, they use a component called C6 in their gear.

Why don’t we make our fire gear in the US with C6 rather than C8?

  • Perhaps because C6 costs exponentially more to make.

The Heat

While fighting fires, your body temperature rises, increasing the rate of absorption of chemicals into your system. Chemicals like the C8 in your gear and chemicals that have accumulated from the fires themselves.

Firefighters and Cancer

Off-Gassing from the Gear

Remember how you tossed that gear in the back of your truck? The chemicals that have accumulated off-gas carcinogens. This is one of the reasons it’s important to decontaminate your gear and your body before leaving the fire. Another reason is that you don’t want to put your family at risk by bringing those carcinogens home with you.

International Firefighters Cancer Foundation

Cindy Ells started the International Firefighters Cancer Foundation after she noticed too many firefighters with cancer in the Maryland Fire Service. In her presentations, she cites research that says, firefighters are more than 100 times more likely to get cancers such as Multiple myelomas, testicular cancer, and blood cancers than the general population.

“That’s what makes firefighting so unique. You are getting the stacking effect of many chemicals that weren’t designed to go together. So, the body and the body’s immune system is not designed to fight these. And hence we have a huge growing cancer effort.” (5)

How can we reduce the number of firefighters with cancer?

  • Follow every precaution.
  • Wearing all your gear.
  • Clean that gear well after each use.
  • Communities need to make funds available for the firefighters who protect them to have enough of the right gear.
  • Departments should require annual physicals.

Check out this powerful video!

Assistance is available for firefighters with cancer

If you are or know. a firefighter who’s been diagnosed with cancer, get in contact with the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and request assistance. They will stick with you from your diagnosis and through the battle. They have volunteer mentors who can share their experiences facing cancer and give you valuable resources through the recovery process.

If a doctor diagnoses you with one of the more than 80 diseases covered by the World Trade Center Health Program and you are eligible, apply HERE.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

  1. Singh A, Zeig-Owens R, Moir W, et al. Estimation of Future Cancer Burden Among Rescue and Recovery Workers Exposed to the World Trade Center Disaster. JAMA Oncol. Published online April 26, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.0504
  2. World Trade Center Health Program
  3. Fire Rescue Magazine.com, The Case for Annual Physical Exams in the Fire Service, 7/1/2010
  4. Station Pride.com, The Real Cancer in Your Gear, 3/28/2017 by Mutual Aid
  5. Interview by Mary Sturgill, July 19, 2016, Columbia, SC (WLTX)
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